The Ubiquitous Suburban Fireplace

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The Ubiquitous Suburban Fireplace

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Jan 13, 2008 1:31 pm

The Ubiquitous Suburban Fireplace

The house I grew up in was built in 1950, in the city of Detroit, and did not have a fireplace. Nor did other
houses in the city, except for the expensive brick homes, in which the addition of a masonry fireplace
would have cost extra.

The modern come-on of the fireplace seems to have started around the early 1960s, in the suburban landscape.
I guess the lure went something like: "Move to the relaxed, quiet suburbs, and enjoy a nice crackling indoor
fire this Christmas," or something like that. It would be an interesting project to research old advertisements
of the time, for this type of sales pitch, coming from both the construction industry, as well as the automotive
industry. Why the car makers? Because "you need not live down the street from your city job, when you can
live out and away from the congestion, and easily and quickly drive there." (today we know better)

My mother watches the home and garden TV shows. ('flip this house,' and others) When a home-design fixup
is planned, there is always the central focal point of the living space: the fireplace. Why does this home and hearth
thing appeal to people? It may be the old John Wayne western movies, which were popular in the 1950s?
The pioneer log cabin always had the massive, beautiful fireplace (remember the huge stone fireplace on the TV
show: "Bonanza") Families would sit around the tube, watching these movies, and muse about moving to the wild,
untamed country (like the pioneers would have done) and of course, one had to have a fireplace out there on the
cold, lonely frontier (the 'burbs) because, naturally, one did not want to freeze to death!

Could this have been the reason for the startup of the 'gotta have a fireplace' mentality in the early 1960s?

Our family moved to the suburbs, following the allure of this 'great suburbs' pitch, (as well as following the
Detroit riots of 1967.) My dad used to start an indoor fire every Saturday evening in winter. But we never would
have dreamed of building a summertime backyard fire on our small lot, as back then, hardly anyone had central
air-conditioning, and you had to open windows in the summer, (or else roast like a pig indoors.)

Closing windows in the summertime was unthinkable. That would be like riding in a car without A/C with the
windows rolled up. So if anyone (then) used a backyard firepit (they did not) the creeping fumes would have
infected everyone. Since more and more people use A/C these days, the rationale is "Let them go indoors!"

News for the pyros: (a) not everyone can afford central A/C. (b) even if the recipient of your poisonous effluent
does own central A/C, it is wasteful to run it on nights where the temp is below 70, where one could just open
a window instead, but cannot, for fear of poisoning. (c) I don't think that the firepits (sold at department stores)
were ever intended to be used on small lots; they are intended to be used in open spaces, away from populated
areas (such as parks, or those owners of very large-acreage properties)

When someone purchases a firepit, they should have to sign a legally-binding document, stating that the fire
must be extinguished if there are any complaints. Better, the pyro must obtain written consent from all residents
(that means everyone) within a 1,000-foot radius of the burning. (good luck pyro, you won't get my John Henry)
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Postby FriendofAir » Mon Jan 21, 2008 2:36 pm

Nice write up Woodnyet.

There is a very strong attraction to a crackling fire and the must-have fireplace. Fortunately, this consciousness is slowly changing, realizing there is no place for this type of recreational burning in an ever wiser and growing population.

I find it interesting that the focal point of most family rooms being built today are centered on the fireplace. Typically, the TV is put off to one side or the other. You would think that in today's age the big screen would take center stage and the fireplace properly taking its place off to the side as a relic of the past.
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Postby Wilberforce » Mon Jan 21, 2008 9:01 pm

FriendofAir wrote:You would think that in today's age the big screen would take center stage and the fireplace
properly taking its place off to the side as a relic of the past.


That day may come soon. Considering that, according to a survey I had done last winter, about 97-98%
of the homes in my suburban city neighborhood do not burn wood (I never see smoke coming out of
this percentage of chimneys)

If they use natural gas fireplaces, that is unknown to me, because I cannot tell by smell alone.
Now consider that all of the 1,035 homes in my subdivision have fireplaces in their houses, and only
2-3% actually use them. Let us double that amount, and conjecture that an additional 2-3% burn gas.
Just to satisfy the critics, let us double the gas figure again. (say 4-6% use gas)

This means that over 9 out of 10 homes in my neighborhood do not use their fireplace for neither wood,
nor gas. And yet they paid probably close to $10,000 for the masonry work, to build the brick chimney
and indoor fireplace into their wall (masonry work is not cheap!)

This $10,000 is tagged onto the cost of a new house, as standard equipment. Imagine, paying $10,000 for
something you never use. Why not just go out and blow it at the casino? Better, flush it down the throne.

People who are building a new home could save thousands of dollars, by installing a fake fireplace, if they
like the looks of the apparatus. My grandmother had one in her Detroit home, and it looked nice. There was
no expensive external chimney. As a small child, I recall wondering how Santa Claus was able to enter her
home on Christmas Eve! (never did figure that out) 8)
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